by Leo Thuman
In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, it concerned some jurists that institutions favoring traditional marriage might receive heavy-handed treatment from the government as a result of the ruling. Conservative justices on the court strongly dissented and raised concerns about the implications of the case on wide-reaching elements of American society. Notably, Justice Samuel Alito was worried about the effects it would have on people of faith, when he said that Obergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”
While the Left had argued that the introduction of same-sex marriage would only positively impact same-sex couples but have no effect on other Americans, recent events have begun to vindicate the concerns of jurists like Alito.
Last week, Bethel Christian Academy filed a complaint in the U.S District Court for Maryland, alleging improper treatment by the Maryland Department of Education. The school’s legal representative, the Alliance Defending Freedom, says that they were penalized by the state simply because their statement of faith upholds a belief in the traditional family.
The Left is determined to keep traditional Christian values away from education and is willing to twist the meaning of laws as much as possible to attack religious schools. Pressure on Maryland Department of Education officials led them to remove Bethel Christian from the state’s BOOST program. BOOST is a voucher program which provides scholarships to eligible private schools for low-income students. Being removed from this program doesn’t only mean that Bethel Christian is being deprived of tuition payments; it also means that many students will be deprived of the choice of a values-based education.
Schools can only participate in this program if they meet a number of requirements, including non-discrimination requirements. Interestingly, Bethel Christian’s requirements were sufficient for two years. So what happened?
The answer to that question isn’t clear. The statute which created BOOST states that schools participating cannot:
…discriminate in student admissions, retention, or expulsion or otherwise discriminate against any student on the basis of race, color, national origin, or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.
Yet, Bethel Christian does not deny admission on the basis of sexual orientation and hasn’t been reported for that kind of discrimination in the past.
Nevertheless, the state of Maryland evidently believes that a flawless record of non-discrimiation, including when it comes to LGBT students, means nothing if the institution’s beliefs about marriage contradict progressive ideology in any way. Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the school, sums up the case in this way:
…because of Bethel Christian Academy’s religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and its belief that biological sex is an immutable gift from God, Maryland officials excluded Bethel from participating in BOOST.
The result of this loss of funding will be dire: 20 percent of students at Bethel Christian are low-income and qualify for the BOOST program. Principal Claire Dant wrote in the Baltimore Sun that her school’s students:
…come from low-income families who opt to send their children to Bethel because the schools in their own neighborhood are often inadequate or because they want their children in a Christian environment.
As a result of Maryland’s punitive (and likely unconstitutional) actions, many low-income families will lose the opportunity to choose a values-based, quality education for their children.
Sadly, Bethel Christian’s case vindicates the concern that Obergefell v. Hodges would be used to attack religious institutions. Other cases in this area, such as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission had to do with civil rights complaints addressed to state governments. Bethel Christian, however, is being directly target by the government, without any claim of cause or concern other than the institution’s Christian faith.
It is disconcerting that an institution would be treated so viciously because they believe in traditional values and Christianity. Fortunately, Bethel Christian is ready for its day in court, with a case which should set another important precedent for the protection of religious freedom.